The Dark Side of Passion-My Love Affair (With Music)

Sheesh! What a title. It sounds like the name of a lousy romance novel. Don’t worry. It’s not. It is a love story, though, and like lots of those dime store novels, it has a happy ending. But the road to that ending was anything but smooth.

I was a child when Cupid’s bow did its number on me. To this day, I can’t explain what it was that attracted me to the drums.  I’d played other instruments. Dabbling in them was like palling around with the boys, joining them in their kickball games. We were just buddies. But drums were different. They were the most popular boy in the class, the one with the longest hair and the coolest jeans (this was the seventies, after all). They were the object of desire but felt unattainable. I have distinct memories of sitting on the floor, gazing google-eyed at the drum kits in the Sears catalog. But somehow, I sensed that it wasn’t my time.  Not yet.  Someday. Maybe.

It wasn’t until middle age, when I truly began drumming, that I felt free enough to sing my love openly. I’d shyly but eagerly give impromptu performances for select family members, always choosing those who I felt would be most supportive.  I wore drum tee shirts. I proudly carried a tuning key in my purse (because you just never know when a drummer will run up to you in the middle of the street, needing help with tuning his drums).  And when I began to gig and needed to buy gear, I did my best to contain my utter joy when people at Guitar Center asked if I was in a band. I responded ever-so nonchalantly, but what I really wanted to do was scream: yes, I am! I’m a drummer!

It got hot and heavy really fast.  I didn’t take things slowly, the way I should’ve. I started entertaining the idea of taking my drumming far more seriously than I ever imagined. I began investigating the possibility of returning to school for a second Bachelors in Music Performance or Music Education. I toyed with the idea of changing my work schedule in order to allow me to study and practice for several hours per day. At one point, I fantasized about quitting work and briefly living off of savings.  And instead of enjoying the gigs that came my way,  I began to see them as mere stepping-stones to those higher-profile corporate or casino gigs, the ones offered to highly-skilled players or professionals. I read articles and books about establishing and meeting goals, and how to experience success in the music business. Taking my cue from them, I scheduled my practices down to the detail. I was to follow this schedule and if I didn’t, I would castigate myself. The little voice inside told me that hey, maybe I didn’t have what it took to realize my dream of being a top-notch player.  Ironically, all of this effort, this meticulous preparation, made me feel even further from my hopes.  The psychological  pressure I placed on myself was immense.

And it sure took its toll.  Drums and I sometimes had a falling out, to the point where I backed off of playing. I wouldn’t touch the kit for days or even weeks at a time.  Band politics, late-night gigs at empty bars or halls, performing the same music over and over, playing to people who were drunk, or turned their backs to the band in order to watch TV, getting stiffed by venue owners. The darker side of being a working musician came crashing down.  I didn’t expect it to be all roses at the door. Not at all. But I did have some preconceived notions of how it would all feel inside of me, and these ideas had absolutely no basis in reality whatsoever.  Maybe it’s no surprise, then, that my love object turned into an anchor.  I didn’t hate him-I could never do that. Let’s say that, when he called, I let the phone ring.

Drums and I were locked into a deep groove, but it was pulling us apart.  In order to keep the romance alive, I had to realize that it was okay not to have the passion machine running at a burning “ten” all of the time. There will  be push and pull, ebb and flow. Intense love can lighten to a more breezy “like”; it can easily devolve into indifference and even further afield. But it all swings back.  With no passion lost. None at all.  It’s okay sometimes to sit at the drums without any enthusiasm. It’s alright to be setting up at a gig and wish I was at home watching Netflix.  It’s understandable to be sick of those exercises that leave me feeling like the Energizer Bunny.  And I don’t have to sit and plot my next step up the musical food chain.  I’ll just play anyway. I’ll form the habit. I’ll show up. I’m no less a musician than I was before.

I do my best to practice gratefulness. Instead of looking at gigs and seeing them as a gateway to greater things, I try to remind myself to be happy in the moment, and feel privileged to play. I still long to play different venues. I hope it’s for the right reasons, not for the sake of doing them because they’re so highly-prized and pay more.  I truly am lucky to be doing this at all, in any capacity.

So, really, I can’t say that my affair with drumming has ended. Rather,  it feels like it’s matured and mellowed into a deep, loving bond that’s real and permanent.  There’s no more of the crazy, windswept “highs”, and best of all,  no more of that questioning as to whether or not I give it the love it needs. I do. I’ve granted myself permission to call it my “passion.” I just don’t need to prove it anymore. I don’t have to validate it by turning it into a career. But it’s not a “hobby.”  It’s part of who I am.  And that’s enough.

In honor of Valentine’s Day, I’ll take another look at passion in the next post.

Please feel free to leave comments below. I’d love to hear about what you’re passionate about.